LOCATED in Klang, the locals used to regard SMK Pendamaran Jaya (SMKPJ) as a school for hoodlums until Teach for Malaysia (TFM), a nonprofit organisation aiming to help children in Malaysia attain an excellent education, started sending its “fellows” to this school.
The fellows are actually young graduates and professionals recruited to teach at highneed public schools for a period of two years.
Since 2012, SMKPJ has hosted 11 TFM fellows. Currently, four fellows are working there with multiple TFM alumni programmes to empower the students.
“Ever since the TFM programme started, the school’s standard has increased,” said Yap Lee Sin, the father of Yap Wei Cheng, a former SMKPJ student.
Yap, who works as a fisherman, said that he has observed a lot of positive changes in his son.
“He has learnt to embrace different cultures and religions. Even now as a school alumnus, Wei Cheng still comes here every Saturday to help students in science and technology.”
For Yap Wei Cheng, 18, his experience with TFM started in Form Three when a fellow, Loh Chee Hoo, began to teach him Mandarin.
“Instead of just referring to the textbook, he would teach us about Chinese values, history and culture. Sir Loh has really impacted my life.
“His best advice to me was to respect everyone equally and not to label or demonise others,” said Yap.
Having been involved with a TFM alumni programme called Chumbaka, Yap was able to undergo life-skills training through technology.
“Through Chumbaka, I learnt about innovation, entrepreneurship and problemsolving. As a result of the training, my group members Yus Amirul Wafiq and Shahril Hashim, and I, came up with an invention called Bonus Clean.
“The invention rewards students with points which they can redeem for items sold at the school co-op, like food and stationery.
“We wanted to encourage students to throw rubbish in the bin to keep the environment clean. Bonus Clean has also brought us to international-level competitions such as The Kuala Lumpur Engineering Science Fair," said Yap.
Aspiring to be an engineer, Yap said that Chumbaka has taught him leadership skills and teamwork.
“Aside from entrepreneurship and innovation, I also developed a better understanding of the Malaysian society.
Working with my diverse team, I was able to learn more about them and the different races in the nation. It was a great opportunity
for us to collaborate with each other.”
Yap added that the most important lesson he has received from TFM fellows is empathy.
“Think before you speak and feel before you judge. Last year, while I was mentoring my juniors, I realised that some of them
have family problems or mental health issues such as depression and anxiety. It’s important to have teachers who listen to students,” said Yap.
SMKPJ fifth former Jeetha Nagantheran, 17, said that TFM fellows always set up interactive games in class to encourage critical thinking.
“For example, in Form One, I really loved learning English with a TFM fellow, Mr Gabriel Samson. He implemented a reward and penalty system, which motivated me to read more and speak up in class.
“Each time we answered his questions, we’d receive a token to participate in a lucky draw. He gave us stationery and food as presents.”
The experience helped Jeetha to break out of her shell.
“After studying with Mr Gabriel, I became more confident. I learnt that it’s important to voice out your ideas and share them.”
Jeetha also took part in an alumni programme called Project ID (Impianku Destinasiku) which she regarded as an eye-opening experience.
“We were only 13, so we hadn’t really thought about our future. But Project ID gave us the opportunity to go to Kidzania and meet lecturers from universities. We were also exposed to various education pathways and careers,” said Jeetha.
Founded by the 2012 cohort of TFM fellows, Project ID prepares students for their future careers through workshops and activities.
A Food Technology graduatefrom Universiti Sains Malaysia, Kuan May Yin, 26, teaches Geography at SMKPJ.
Teaching had never crossed Kuan’s mind until her coursemate died while they were in the final year of their studies.
“It made me think about my purpose in life. I believe that I have a mission to help others. When it comes to the education system, Malaysians like to complain on
social media. It shows that we care and are concerned. So, I thought to myself, why don't I turn that feeling into action?”
Having learnt a lot as a teacher, she said: “At school, I don’t deal with robots or computers, but I work with different children every day.
“I learnt that respect is earned. When I step into the classroom, I need to show that I respect my students. When you show your respect and love for them genuinely, they’ll return it.
“I also learnt to love the students who are the hardest to love. There are students who don’t bring their books and always come in late, but they have hard stories to tell. From divorced parents to abusive families, I’ve heard it all when they open up to me.”
Kuan added that teachers can leave an impact on the most difficult of students.
“One day, while I was teaching, I struggled to raise my voice as the class next door was very noisy. Then, a student, who always misbehaves in class, asked for my permission to go to the washroom. He actually went next door and told the students to keep quiet.
“I didn’t ask him to do it, but he took the initiative to help me. It was a very powerful moment as it shows that students are capable of making a change despite coming from challenging backgrounds.”
On Aug 1, Deputy Education Minister Teo Nie Ching joined Kuan to co-teach a Geography lesson at SMKPJ.
The session was held as part of the annual TFM Week, where key leaders are invited to spend time as teachers in underprivileged schools.